An eventful drama played out over a couple of days and as it unfolded, the plot could be pieced together. There’s nothing quite like the satisfying discovery that these two ‘players’ are named for their specialised roles and the piece being enacted was precisely as it should be. But wait! The prey is twice the size and has it’s own fearsome reputation and appearance, so how does this pan out?
I was to learn that this rather dashing looking insect is a female wasp (curved feelers), and working on her own, was busy building a burrow, gathering up gravel chips and placing them with neat accuracy into a bulwark of defense to protect the tunnel opening. It was intriguing to see her fuss over the stones: picking and choosing the exact shape required. She used her strong mandibles to move them into place with such precision. I regret not having a camera to record her engineering efforts. She worked with energetic intent.
Next day, after a lot of flitting about, here – there, and everywhere else, triumph! She’d tracked and snagged a fat spider twice her size and spent a good part of an hour dragging it across an uneven patch of lawn, up a terrace wall and over rough gravel, back to the nest. The spider, though still alive was in a paralysed state as this predator is of the largest of the parasitoid wasp species and inflicts the most potent of stings. It is recorded as having the most painful of insect stings in the world! Well, there it was stalking around my garden and i was so blissfully unaware of it’s murderous capabilities.
The whole grand scheme is to provide a living meal for the larva when is hatches. Just a single egg is laid on the spider’s abdomen. After hatching and several weeks of worming around the spider’s innards, the larva pupates and finally emerges from the spider’s abdomen to continue the adult life cycle.
So there you have it – a record of the maternal behaviour of the Tarantula-hawk wasp (Pepsis mildei) and the merciless fate of a hapless baboon spider (Harpactirinae), a sub species of the Tarantula (Theraphosidae) spiders.